In a few days I plan to head south to discover explore some parts of Iran that I have yet to see, but in the meantime my days are mainly spent working on my pictures (less than 1500 to go now). The TV is often on in the background, which is something of a novelty as I rarely have the opportunity, or even feel the need, to watch TV whilst travelling. Like everyone else in Iran we have satellite, even though it is illegal, and so have been listening to the news quite regularly. These are certainly interesting times to be in the Middle East as revolutions rock Tunisia and Egypt. Personally I am very happy that the people of these countries are managing to overthrow their brutal governments and I wish them better ones in the future (and if the protests spread to other countries in the region then so much the better, as there isn’t a single one that has a legitimately fair and representative government, not even Israel or Lebanon).
The reactions of other countries has also been fascinating in terms of worldwide realpolitik. The West, and most notably America, have been very muted in their response because these were secular dictatorships propped up by Western money and influence. The paradox and hypocrisy of Us calling for greater democracy and freedoms in the wider world whilst supporting such regimes is blatantly apparent to the people of the region. Last week Obama called for “restraint from both parties” in Egypt, somehow implying that the ordinary people, who after 30 years of repression were protesting for their basic civil rights and an end to the endemic corruption of the Mubarak government, were somehow as much to blame as the latter. Such pussyfooting about has left a vacuum where opportunists have stepped in: the Iranian government is claiming the protests are inspired by the revolution of ’79.
And therein lies the crux of what I see as the fatal flaw in America’s dealing with other countries, especially those of the Middle East. They spout rhetoric about democracy, moral high-grounds and universal human rights, and yet they back unsavoury regimes for the sake of expediency, believing that the ends justify the means. Unfortunately for them, when the ends are ethics and the rule of law, the means are the ends. By that I mean that you cannot act immorally to promote the spread of justice and morality. By doing so you undermine any credibility you might have. Every regime here is pretty much equally corrupt, venal, oppressive and unfair. But by labelling some as “good” and others as “bad” based solely on how much the regime toe’s Washington’s line, yet couching the rhetoric in human rights, America ends up alienating the local population who are far more savvy about world politics than their Western peers. And so you get the surreal situation, where the Iranian regime, which is far from democratic, is supporting pro-democracy protests in a country that has long been an adversary, whilst America, the leader of the “free world”, is praising an oppressive dictator and seeking to keep him in power.
Similarly, if you compare the reaction from foreign powers to the protests both in Tunisia and Egypt to those in Iran a couple of years back there is a world of difference. Back then they were incredibly vocal in their support of the protesters’ rights and demands and did their utmost to ensure that communication was maintained via the internet and other media. Now, when the Egyptian authorities have taken the unprecedented step of blocking off the entire internet in the country there was barely a peep to be heard.
Geopolitics really is depressing when you start looking at it closely.